The Strad Issue: January 2014
Description: Riveting performances that expose the extremes of Schubertian expression
Musicians: Pavel Haas Quartet, Danjulo Ishizaka (cello)
Composer: Schubert

These are superb performances. The Pavel Haas Quartet presents Schubert’s ‘Death and the Maiden’ Quartet as a dichotomy, pretty much divided into loud Schubert and soft Schubert. The opening statement is as strong and fateful as one could wish – after it the business of the movement begins piano with vibrato-free white sound, followed by a vehement forte repeat. And so it continues: soft Schubert is mellow, pliant, seductive; loud Schubert can be positively ferocious. The result is vivid and compelling. The first movement is propelled forward with energy, constant beauty and lilting charm (though without its exposition repeat). The second movement is gently caressed, so that the violent dactylic outburst of the third variation comes as a real shock. The finale, a true one-in-a-bar presto, snaps and bites.

For the Quintet the contrast in performing style is striking. Here, in a predominantly lyrical account, the edges are softened. Phrasing is supple and flowing (the legato playing is exceptional). After an exquisite performance of the slow movement the scherzo is a stamping earth-dance with a time-stopping trio at its heart. The finale has insouciant charm to match its vigour. The balance between parts in both works is exemplary, helped by the recording itself in a warm, resonant acoustic.

Clip: Schubert String Quartet in D minor D810 ‘Death and the Maiden': 1st mvt